Degradation of hexane and other recalcitrant hydrocarbons by a novel isolate, Rhodococcus sp. EH831

Eun Hee Lee, Jaisoo Kim, Kyung Suk Cho, Yun Gyong Ahn, Geum Sook Hwang

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Background, aim, and scope: Hexane, a representative VOC, is used as a solvent for extraction and as an ingredient in gasoline. The degradation of hexane by bacteria is relatively slow due to its low solubility. Moreover, the biodegradation pathway of hexane under aerobic conditions remains to be investigated; therefore, a study relating to aerobic biodegradation mechanisms is required. Consequently, in this study, an effective hexane degrader was isolated and the biodegradation pathway examined for the first time. In addition, the degradation characteristics of a variety of recalcitrant hydrocarbons were qualitatively and quantitatively investigated using the isolate. Materials and methods: A hexane-degrading bacterium was isolated from an enrichment culture using petroleum-contaminated soil as an inoculum with hexane as the sole carbon and energy source. The bacterium was also identified using the partial 16S rRNA gene sequence. To test the hexane-degrading capacity of the isolate, 10 ml of an EH831 cell suspension was inoculated into a 600-ml serum bottle with hexane (7.6-75.8 μmol) injected as the sole carbon source. The rates of hexane degradation were determined by analyzing the concentrations of hexane using headspace gas chromatography. In addition, the hexane biodegradation pathway under aerobic conditions was investigated by identifying the metabolites using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with solid-phase microextraction. 14C-hexane was used to check if EH831 could mineralize hexane in the same experimental system. The degradabilities of other hydrocarbons were examined using EH831 with methanol, ethanol, acetone, cyclohexane, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), dichloromethane (DCM), trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene (BTEX), pyrene, diesel, lubricant oil, and crude oil as sole carbon sources. Results: A bacterium, EH831, was isolated from the enriched hexane-degrading consortium, which was able to degrade hexane and various hydrocarbons, including alcohols, chlorinated hydrocarbons, cyclic alkanes, ethers, ketones, monoaromatic and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and petroleum hydrocarbons. The maximum hexane degradation rate (Vmax) of EH831 was 290 μmol g dry cell weight-1 h-1, and the saturation constant (Ks) was 15 mM. Using 14C-hexane, EH831 was confirmed to mineralize approximately 49% of the hexane into CO2 and, converted approximately, 46% into biomass; the rest (1.7%) remained as extracellular metabolites in the liquid phase. The degradation pathway was assessed through the qualitative analysis of the hexane intermediates due to EH831, which were 2-hexanol, 2-hexanone, 5-hexen-2-one and 2,5-hexanedione, in that order, followed by 4-methyl-2-pentanone, 3-methly-1-butanol, 3-methyl-1-butanone and butanal, and finally, CO2. EH831 could degrade methanol, ethanol, acetone, cyclohexane, MTBE, DCM, BTEX, pyrene, diesel, and lubricant oil. Discussion: EH831 was able to degrade many recalcitrant hydrocarbons at higher degradation rates compared with previous well-known degraders. Furthermore, this study primarily suggested the aerobic biodegradation pathway, which may provide valuable information for researchers and engineers working in the field of environmental engineering. Conclusions: Rhodococcus sp. EH831 is a promising bioresource for removing hexane and other recalcitrant hydrocarbons from a variety of environments. Moreover, the aerobic biodegradation pathway is reported for the first time in this study, which offers valuable information for understanding the microbial degradation of hexane. Recommendations and perspectives: The utility of the strain isolated in this study needs to be proved by its application to biological process systems, such as biofilters and bioreactors, etc., for the degradation of hexane and many other recalcitrant hydrocarbons. Detailed investigations will also be needed to clarify the enzymatic characteristics relating the degradation of both recalcitrant hydrocarbons and hexane.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-77
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST; NRL program, R0A-2008-000-20044-0). It was also supported through the Advanced Environmental Biotechnology Research Center at Pohang University of Science and Technology (2009-0079504) by the NRF, MEST.


  • BTEX
  • Biodegradation
  • Cyclohexane
  • Dichloromethane
  • Metabolic pathway
  • Methyl tert-butyl ether
  • Rhodococcus sp.
  • Solid phase microextraction


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